"I love my cats because I love my home, and little by little they become its visible soul." Jean Couteau

Saturday, November 7, 2015

the five-year anniversary gift is wood

At the same time Zach was asking for his triangle table, he made another movie room carpentry request as well. Since we had our anniversary coming up, and the five-year gift is wood, I thought, 'hey, perfect!'

This second request was for a sort of shelf box to sit in front of the window to get the collectable figures off the floor. All these action hero collectable people come with multiple heads (often mask on/mask off situation, but sometimes more lame like calm hair/wind-blown crazy hair), so the underneath shelf area will provide some bonus head-storage area. As Zach and I talked about it, I said, "And, hey, wouldn't it be awesome if there were doors, so you couldn't just see all the heads lying about in there?" Of course, yeah, he thought that was a pretty good idea. Good job, making more work for myself.

We measure the theoretical shelf box to be 7" tall, 8" deep, and 42" long. I decided to use the same sort of pine board I had used for the triangle table, mainly because I still had a good amount leftover that I could use for the smaller sides. I also planned to put two supports on the inside to divide the box into three sections. Then I would have two sliding doors that would cover two sections at a time, leaving one section open.

I went to Home Depot and got another 48" long pine board that I cut into two 8" wide pieces. I decided I wouldn't have time to make the doors in time for our anniversary, but I did need to make the top and bottom pieces in preparation for adding the doors later, which meant making grooves to enable the sliding action. I found this Remodelaholic post where they made a pegboard cupboard with sliding doors, which helped me figure out how to do it. I made my grooves slightly wider than the width of the pine board, which less than 3/4". I made the groove for the bottom of the shelf about 1/8" deep and the groove for the top about 1/4" deep. Both grooves start 1/2" in from the edge of the board. I created the grooves using my friend's table saw. I set up two fences that would allow me to move the board back and forth to make that wide groove without making it too wide and set the blade at exactly the right height. I did a little test with a scrap piece of wood.

After I had my grooves cut, I cut my side pieces. Then I decided it would be easier to paint the insides before assembly since the inside would be pretty small and tight after assembly. So I primed with Kilz Latex, then did two coats of the same black paint as the triangle table. I was starting to run low, so I got another sample size at Home Depot. Then I did a few coats of spray polyurethane. After all that was dry, it was assembly time. 

I again used my cool new corner clamps, wood glue, and 1.5" brad nails. First, I attached each of the sides to the bottom, then I put on the top. As you can see from the photo, I actually attached the sides to the bottom before painting. But then I painted before putting th top on. I'm still a pretty big fan of my new corner clamps. :-)

Next, I measured and cut the inside support walls. They have to come not quite all the way up to the groove so the doors can slide past them. Again, I wanted to paint them before putting them in since in would be tight to get a paintbrush in the box. To make the process go a bit faster, after priming with the same Kilz Latex, I spray-painted them with Rustoleum in black. Instead of taking two coats with four hours to dry between coats, I could do two coats in less than an hour. The paint covered really well too, such that I debated whether I really even needed two coats. I still did, just to be safe. The paint was really shiny though, so I wouldn't want to use it on the outside. But for inside walls that you won't really see, it was just fine. I did a couple of coats of the polyurethane too.

I did some math to figure out the placement of the inside walls, which turned out a very nice, even 13" for each of the three sections. I cut some scrap wood into 13" strips to help me get my walls placed properly. Due to the small size of the wall, I could only fit one of the corner clamps on a side, and because the wall doesn't come all the way up to the front due to the groove, the clamp couldn't reach on the front. Therefore, I could only use one clamp for each wall. Still, it was better than nothing. I got things lined up with that one clamp, then put on some glue and slid the wall in place. I used my scrap wood to make sure all part of the wall were lined up and square and even, then cranked down my clamp. Then I shot some nails in and did the whole thing again for the other wall.

Then it was time to fill in all those nail holes and cracks where my boards didn't quite line up properly. Wait for the wood filler to dry and sand. I really hate sanding. Sanding is a lot of work. But I'm learning how worth it sanding is. Of course, then there's all the clean-up from sanding. I wiped everything down with a damp paper towel. Then I wiped everything down again with a tack cloth. Tack cloths are great. Paper towels tend to leave little bits of themselves behind, so even if they clean up all the sawdust, things still aren't 100% clean. But the tack cloths are sticky and don't leave bits of themselves behind, leaving everything ready for painting. 

Which is exactly what came next. Priming, to be exact. Then lots of black paint. With lots of waiting between coats. And then a few coats of spray polyurethane. 

Then I had to attach the back. I had found some sort of 1/4" thick board at Home Depot that looked like the backings of Ikea shelves. I cut it to size on my friend's table saw and spray painted that black. Then nailed it on with 5/8" nails, the smallest size my brad nailer will take. I wanted to use shorter nails because there were some spots where I was afraid I might run into other nails if I used longer nails, and the back was thin enough I didn't need to use long ones there.

And that was it. Zach liked it, though he seemed less impressed than with the triangle table. Maybe he's starting to have higher expectations. I didn't get any good pictures of the shelf by itself finished, but here it is starting to perform its duties. Zach didn't want to load it up too much since I'll probably have to move things around a bit when I make the doors.

Saturday, October 31, 2015


We recently got a Nest Learning Thermostat as our free gift with purchase of our solar panels (which we haven't actually gotten installed yet, so more on those another time). We didn't actually know we were getting one until I got a shipping confirmation email of a Nest we hadn't ordered. However, we kind of guessed maybe it was from the solar guys, and when asked, they confirmed, oh yeah, we forgot to tell you we'd be sending you one of those, enjoy!

I'd read about the Nest thermostat before. In fact, back when the Young House Love blog existed and I was an avid reader, John installed one in their house. So I was not uninterested in this new arrival. I opened it up and was immediately taken in by the beautiful packaging. I have to say, I'm a sucker for good packaging. I hate it when things come in giant packages with tons of wasted space. This was compact and layered quite wonderfully. 

First layer

Lift out the first layer, and you reveal the second layer

Lift out the second layer, and you get to the third layer

Lift out the third layer, and you have the fourth and final layer of goodies!

I read the instructions to have an overview of what I'd need to be doing, then got started. The first thing to do was turn off everything. We have dual zones, and although I was only replacing the thermostat for one zone, I turned off the breakers for both zones, just to be safe. 

The next step is taking off the thermostat cover. 

The wiring inside ours was very simple. Like John, I was a big fan of the included stickers for labeling the wires to help remember which is which. Some of them were a little tough to free from their restraints, but I eventually got all out and labeled. Then it was just a matter of unscrewing the rest of the plate from the wall and swapping to the new one. 

Again, HUGE fan of the built-in level. After screwing on the back-plate, snapping on the thermostat was, well, a snap! 

The software started right up and walked through the language and location setup. I wasn't able to test the air conditioning because Nest was on the Internet and said that outdoor temperatures in my area were too cold; Nest won't turn on air conditioning if outside temperatures are below a certain point (I think it was 50 deg F, but I don't remember for sure. It might have been 60. The picture above was taken at a different time). But I was able to successfully test the heat and fan, so I felt some warm-fuzzies that I had done the wiring correctly. 

As you can see from the above photo, the Nest is much smaller than our previous thermostat, revealing an area of unpainted wall and some drywall anchors. I debated what to do about this. That fourth layer of packaging contained a wall plate for just such a circumstance; however, it was a sort of creme color. This would have perfectly matched the wall before I painted it tan, but I didn't think it would look good not matching the wall and not matching the sleek black and chrome Nest. I thought about removing the drywall anchors and patching and painting the wall. I found a paint can in the garage of the paint used for these walls, but it turned out to be empty (I subsequently threw it out). I could have gotten some more, but I didn't want to get a whole gallon for a tiny patch job and didn't know if I could get a small amount that would still match well enough. So in the end, I grabbed some black spray paint I had lying around and spray painted the creme wall plate. I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but it's good enough for now.

I think we're still kind of in the learning phase, both for the Nest and for me. We're in a time of year when we often just have both heat and air conditioning off, so that's happening a lot, so I'm not sure how much learning is happening then. As we get more into colder times, I guess we'll see how it goes.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

another birthday, another carpentry project for the movie room

With Zach's birthday coming up, he made a request this year -- he asked that I build him a triangular end table for the basement. There's a little nook between a couch and two other tables where he wants it. He currently has some weird, hacked cardboard contraption that I have no idea how it doesn't collapse under the weight of all the Captain America men he has standing on it. He wanted it to look just like the Ikea tables he has, which are very simple. Although the triangle part had me a little nervous, it didn't sound too super difficult, and I was pleased with his confidence in me, so I said I'd do it.

The first thing was measuring the area. I measured the depth as 23" and the width as 17 3/8". I pulled out some long un-used geometry and trigonometry to figure out the angles and other side (which turned out to be not quite 53 deg, just over 37 deg, and about 28.825"). I didn't really need to know these ahead of time, as I measured them later, but I like having big-picture knowledge like that when I'm starting out.

I went to Home Depot and bought what I thought was an 18"x48" piece of pine. I swear that's what the sign said. I should have measured it. I should have read the little sticker on the board. It was actually 17.5"x48". For this project, it was actually better because it was close enough that I didn't even have to cut that side because that side kind of tucks under the arm of the couch anyway. However, for a different project, I might have had to go buy a new piece of wood.

For the other side, I used a new tool I'd recently purchased. It's the Kreg Rip Cut, and it's supposed to help make a circular saw more like a table saw, as in make straighter cuts. One end attaches to the saw, and the other end has a straight edge to track along the edge of the board you're cutting. There's a slider in between, so the two ends can be different lengths apart, allowing you to make cuts about 1" up to about 24" wide. 

After getting my new tool all out of the packaging and assembled, I got some scrap wood and did some practice cutting to see how everything was lined up and if my measuring was right. I have to say, it's a bit unwieldy. The saw end it so heavy, the end that's supposed to stay lined up with the end of the board doesn't just stay down next to the board on its own, so I had to keep my one hand over there holding it down. However, with a wide, 23" cut, that meant my arms were pretty far apart. Plus, I usually use that other hand to help hold the board more firmly, which helps keep the cut nicer at the end. 

I used my Rip Cut to cut the 23" cut all the way across my board. Then I took the tool off and used my circular saw the normal way to cut diagonally across the board to get my triangle piece. At that point, I took it downstairs and had Zach come give his approval for how it would fit in the space. Even though it was going to be a present, it wasn't a surprise, and I figured that was safest before going to any more effort to make this table.

Next, I needed to make edge pieces to make the table top appear thicker. The Ikea tables are 2" thick, but my pine board was only 0.75" thick. I had some scrap 0.75" thick boards that I used to make the edges. Since I felt only mildly successful with the Rip Cut, I decided to use my friend's table saw to create 1.25" strips (plus I was going to need to use his miter saw, so I had to go over there anyway). I then used the miter saw to make all the necessary angle cuts to fit the strips around the triangle. This was not as simple as the chair rail cuts had been. Even though I measured the angles, the cuts didn't seem to come out right, so I eventually devolved to trial and error with scrap pieces. I also seemed to be right up against the angle limits of the miter saw for one of the angles. But I finally got pieces that mostly fit together, and the parts that still weren't quite all the way, I covered with wood filler, so it looked OK.

Here is my little soapbox about wood filler. When I first started building wood things, I was impatient to get to the end. I thought, 'those little cracks? those little nail holes? surely paint will fill those in and no one will notice them.' But that's just not true. Those cracks and holes aren't really that small. It really is worth it to take the extra time to fill all those cracks and nail holes, wait for the filler to dry, and sand it down, and maybe even do it again for larger areas. Your project will look SO much better. The end.

I attached the top to the edge pieces with wood glue and 1.5" brad nails. After assembling the top, I had to attach the legs. I was initially kind of concerned about how I was going to make these 2" square legs. Then I recalled that we have this crappy Ikea table in our dining room that I've been planning to get rid of. It's exactly the same kind of table as the ones that Zach wants the triangle table to be like. The top is all water-damaged and bubbly, but the legs are just fine :-)

So I took off three of the legs and attached them to the top using glue and 2.5" finish nails. Next came more wood filler for all these nail holes. Lots of nail holes. 

Finally, with all the holes and cracks filled and sanded, it was time to start painting. I started with Kilz latex primer. I just did one coat of that. Then I moved on to the black paint. I used the same paint I had leftover from Zach's birthday present two years ago. That took three coats to get nice coverage. I probably could have gotten away with two coats, especially since the table will mostly be covered with collectables, but I went for the third coat anyway. Then I finished it off with three light coats of spray polyurethane in a satin gloss.

When Zach's birthday came, it was a little bit not super exciting, since he knew what he was getting. I gave it to him in the morning, so he's have time to 'play' with it, i.e. get all his people set up on it. He was properly impressed. He said it looked better than he was expecting (I'm still not quite sure what that means), and that it looked exactly like the Ikea tables he has. So I guess I'll take that. Though Dodger was less than impressed.

This picture does not even do justice to the dead, uninterested look in his eyes as I brought the table into the room, covered in a blanket, and as Zach opened and read his card and then unwrapped the table and exclaimed over it.

We took the table down to the basement, took out the cardboard table Zach had made for the spot before, and put in the new table. It fit perfectly and looked great! We were both pretty pleased :-)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

supergirl baby turns one

Remember when I made this blanket for my friends' baby in the NICU? Well, that little lady has been out of the NICU for quite some time now and just turned one year old. In honor of this momentous occasion, I decided to make her a little present. I had actually gotten this idea a long time ago, probably not long after she'd been born, when I was in Joann Fabric for some other reason, waiting around the cutting counter. There was a stack of free project ideas, and I saw this and thought, 'that is so adorable, I want to make it, my friends just had a baby, now I just need to wait for her to have a birthday so I can make it for her.'

I figure since the instructions were free for anyone to take at Joann, it's probably OK if I post them on the Interwebs. The instructions call for felt, but I used grey fleece that I had leftover from this other baby blanket I'd made for another friend's baby (so many babies!). Most of the colored fabric I used were leftover from my pastor friend's stole

I won't really go into details because I really just followed the instructions, and they're pretty simple. However, it did take me much longer than their estimated 3-5 hours. Of course, not being a teacher or having children, I didn't have number stencils, so first I had to find some numbers I liked from the Google, make them the appropriate size on my computer, print and cut them into my own stencils. I spent way more time choosing numbers than was really necessary.

Then, as with my friend's stole, I chose not to just iron on the numbers, but also sew around them. Not only did just doing that add time, but I also practiced on some scrap fabric first, plus I tried out a couple of different types of stitches before choosing what I believe is called a blanket stitch. Initially I was going to go with a really tight zig-zag stitch, like I used on the stole, but after some practicing, it wasn't going well. The numbers had a lot of curves, and I have a new sewing machine from when I did the stole, so I'm not too sure about all the settings, and it didn't seem to be working as well or looking as good as I remembered from the stole. After reading through my manual, trying to get tips for making this work, I discovered this other type of stitch. I tried it, and it worked better, and I thought it looked good, so I went with it. But that all ate up a lot of time.

So finally I got the numbers ironed and sewed on the grey fleece fronts. Then I attached the fusible fleece to the colored fabric, then sewed all of that to the grey fronts, then turned everything right-side out. 

The tricky thing was figuring out how much stuffing and rice to put inside. The instructions don't specify, just saying "equal parts." I think I ended up with about half a cup of each. Obviously, it's kind of hard to measure the stuffing, as it's very fluffy. I put it in the measuring cup and then smushed it down, so it was a smushed-down half cup. That made the bags still pretty floppy, which was what I wanted. Also, you can't really buy a small bag of stuffing, but this project doesn't take a lot, so if you have ideas of other things I can make with all my leftover stuffing, let me know :-) I do have more friends with babies, so maybe I'll just have to make a lot more of these. I do already have my number stencils now!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

dualing toilets

I've been thinking about converting our toilets to dual-flush ever since I read this post on Young House Love. Also, my office building has dual-flush toilets, and I think it's a great idea. The Petersiks made the conversion sound so easy, I finally got around to giving it a try. I bought the conversion kit they recommended from Amazon, and soon it arrived on my front step. 

It turned out to be perfect timing, too, because we had just gotten our water bill, so now we'll have almost a complete cycle to compare when we get our next bill. We have four toilets in our house, but I decided to just do the one in our master bathroom, which is the one we use the most, and see how it goes. If it really does seem to save a significant amount of water, I'll move forward with more toilets.

I will go ahead and say now, I had a bit of an issue, but it was entirely my fault and lack of toilet knowledge. One of the reviews I read on Amazon was a guy saying that he had not realized that the conversion kit worked only if you didn't have a ballcock fill valve, and that if, like him, you did, then you'd have to replace that too. I didn't know what that meant, but it kind of sounded like older technology, and since our house is only about five years old, I assumed we didn't have that. Turns out, we do! I will get more into that later.

Back to when I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that I had the wrong kind of fill valve for the conversion kit. 

I opened up the conversion kit and read all the directions to get an idea of what I might be getting myself into. They say that turning the water off is optional, but I find sticking my hand in cold toilet tank water to be pretty gross, so for me, it was not optional. At one point, Zach came in to check out what was going on, and we had this little conversation:
Zach: How come there's no water in the tank?
Me: Because I turned the water off.
Zach: You can do that?
Me: Yeah, there's this little knob down here on the floor behind the toilet. Sometimes I know things.

Once I got the water turned off and flushed the toilet a couple of times to empty out as much water from the tank as possible, I got to work following the conversion kit instructions. Just like John Petersik, I needed a wrench to get the handle off. I also needed pliers to take out this huge ball float thing, which John did NOT mention. This was my first inkling that perhaps I had a ballcock fill valve and this wasn't going to work. However, I decided to ignore that little nagging feeling and keep going with the installation. 

Side note about the handle... The conversion kit came in two different handle types, button and lever. The Petersiks had gotten the button kind. I chose the lever kind, so it would look more like our other toilets. The handle has an inside lever for the small flush and an outside lever for the regular flush. When you flush the inside lever, it kind of feels like both levers are going down, and you think, 'this seems like it's still going to do the big flush,' but it doesn't.

I finished up the installation, turned the water back on, and the toilet tank started filling. And it kept filling. And it started going down the overflow tube. And it kept going. Until I turned the water back off. It was at this point that I did a Google image search for ballcock fill valve and found a picture that looked suspiciously like the pieces that were part of my toilet. I turned back to the front page of the conversion kit instructions where I had previously seen this note:
"If you have a ballcock style fill valve, you may need to purchase a HydroClean or HydroWorks fill valve."

It was a little after 2pm, and we had somewhere we needed to be at 4pm. I didn't want to leave our primary toilet in a non-usable state, and I also didn't really want to undo all the work I had just done. So I went to homedepot.com and looked up the HydroClean Fill Valve to verify that they carried it and that it was in stock at my local store. Then I drove over, grabbed my new fill valve, and rushed home with about 45 minutes before we had to leave.

I opened up the instructions for the fill valve, and the first step was less than informative: "Shut water off, flush toilet to empty tank, and remove old toilet fill valve." Not very helpful if you don't know how to remove the old fill valve.

So, I went to Google, which brought me to this YouTube demonstration. I smushed a bucket into the area under the toilet tank and unscrewed the flexible pipe. Then I could just pull the fill valve out and watch the remaining water drain out of the toilet tank into my bucket.

The rest of the fill valve installation just followed the instructions and was pretty straightforward. After installing the fill valve and reconnecting the pipe to the toilet tank, the inside of my toilet now looked like this:

I turned the water back on, and the tank didn't just keep filling forever! Yay! I had to do a bit of adjusting on the fill valve to get it to stop filling at the appropriate place. Then I tried pressing the small flush handle. And the toilet bowl didn't empty. I knew from Young House Love that there was some adjusting to be done to get the dual flushes to work properly. I didn't have time for that right then, but at least we could use the regular flush and still use our toilet!

I came back to the project the next weekend. The fill valve has a lever to adjust the amount of water in the bowl, so you could use it on its own to save water by lowering the water level there. However, I ended up keeping the water level in the bowl about the same, maybe even slightly higher, to get the small flush to work. The dual flush converter has its own adjustments for the amount of water used during the small flush. There was quite a bit of trial and error with that. I felt like all the benefit we might get from saving water with the dual flush was getting overridden by all the flushing I was doing to test each slight adjustment! Finally, though, I got things to a state where the dual flush capabilities work. You do have to hold the small flush handle down a bit longer than with normal handle or even the regular flush part of the dual handle, but you get used to it. With the tank lid off, I could definitely see a significant difference in the amount of water that went out of the tank with the small flush compared to the regular flush. 

Now I just wait three months for our next water bill to see how much this saves us. However, even if it's a good amount of savings, I may not convert all of our other toilets. Since they'll all need a new fill valve, I may just change that out and use the adjustment feature to lower the water level in the bowl and see if that's a comparable savings on its own.

blacking out the bedroom

In my continuing efforts to sleep better (someday I'll write about post or two or three about this great saga), I decided our bedroom needed to be darker. I generally had thought of it as pretty dark, but one morning, as I again woke up long before the alarm, I realized that there really was a significant amount of light seeping in through the Roman shades. As a test, I took some leftover blackout lining from the basement curtains I had made and pinned it over the existing shades. I was amazed at how much darker the room got, which sold me on the idea that adding blackout lining to our shades was definitely something I should do.

Unfortunately, I did not have enough leftover fabric from the basement curtains to cover all, or even most, of the bedroom shades. Luckily, I have this blog, where I document my projects, so I just looked at my previous post to find what blackout lining I had used. JoannFabric.com claimed they had it in stock, but when I went there, it didn't look exactly the same (I took a piece of my existing fabric with me), but it was close enough. The width of the fabric, 54", was going to be just about right for the height of the shades. I estimated the shade width at 3' for the narrow windows (measured at about 31", but I like to over-estimate a bit for buying fabric) and about twice that for the wide window. I figured I had enough leftover fabric for one of the narrow windows, so I got 3 yds (9') of new blackout lining.

Then I had to figure out how to attach it to my existing Roman shades. At first, I thought I would sew the lining on, but the shades were too thick to fit in my sewing machine, and I certainly wasn't going to hand sew all of that. Also, Roman shades are kind of tricky because there are all these different sections with cords running through them. I decided to try two different methods to see which would hold better. In the end, I used a combination of the two methods. 

The first was glue, specifically FabricFuse Quick Bond Fabric Adhesive. The second was Heat n Bond Ultrahold, which is an iron-on, and sort of looks like double-sided tape. I got it in the 5/8" width. I tried each of these adhesives on some scraps of the blackout lining. Initially, it seemed like neither was going to hold. I waited and waited for the glue to dry, and the fabric pieces kept peeling apart. The same thing happened with the iron-on adhesive. I was growing extremely frustrated and decided to give up for the day. The next day, when I took another look at my test pieces, both the glue and iron-on were holding fast. Apparently, they just needed a really long time to cure. With that decided, I got started on the first shade. 

I was afraid that if I disassembled the cords along the back, I wouldn't be able to get them just right again. So instead of covering the back of the shade with one big piece of blackout lining, I decided to do a small piece for each of the 8 sections between where the cords attach in. Each of these pieces was about 31" wide and 8" tall. I cut out all my pieces for the first shade and started gluing. It took a really long time and a lot of glue. I let it dry on the floor for a few hours before hanging the shade back up. 

For the second narrow shade, I mostly used the iron-on Heat n Bond. I thought maybe this would be less time-consuming than the glue, but no. I think it actually took more time, though they were probably close. Ironing on the sides was pretty easy, but trying to do the tops and bottoms, where the fabric gets wrapped around some sort of stiff stabilizer that keeps the shade looking nice when you pull it up, was tricky. I ended up doing some gluing in some areas to be sure of a good hold. Plus, it used a lot of the Heat n Bond. 

So for the final window, I used a combination of the two methods. Spoiler alert, this way also took a really long time. It turned out, there was no way around that. I used the Heat n Bond to attach the sides of each panel, then glued along the top and bottom. Since this shade was twice as wide as the others, I also put a couple of strips of Heat n Bond in the middle of the shade too, for a little extra support. Below are pictures of the fabric after ironing on the sides, but before, and then after, gluing the tops and bottoms. You can see how floppy it is before the gluing, but then the fabric gets all nice and tucked in after.

Each shade took a few hours, and I found the whole process annoying and not fun. However, it was very easy, so if you have existing Roman shades, this is a totally doable DIY. But if we hadn't already had these nice shades that I really like and were pretty expensive, I would totally have sprung for shades that already came with blackout lining. 

Here are the before and after. 

Obviously, a lot less light is getting through the shades now. Unfortunately, there's still some light sneaking around the sides of the shades. I'm debating doing a valence with side curtains to cover that up. Or maybe I'll just try a sleep mask.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

classing up the dining room

The same weekend I painted the planter I started another, longer project -- installing chair rail in the dining room. This is something that's been on the to do list in my mind for quite awhile, and I finally got around to doing it. I picked this one from Home Depot, ordered it online, and a week or so later, it arrived on my doorstep. After choosing a chair rail, the next most difficult decision was what height to hang it. There are, apparently, a number of philosophies on the correct height for a chair rail. Some say a third of the way up the wall, which with our 9' ceilings would be 3', or 36". Others say that's too high, that it should be put only a quarter of the way up the wall, which for us would be 27". Others say 30". When the chair rail arrived, Zach and I pulled it out of the box and held a piece up to the wall. 30" seemed too low, while 36" seemed too high. To us, 32" seemed the Goldilocks height and, since it's our house, we're the only ones whose opinions matter. The yellow mark in the photo below is at 32".

Here are some "before" pictures:

Saturday, I got all the pieces, except for the ones around the bay window, measured, cut, and nailed in. First, I measured up in one spot on the wall to 32". At that point, I held a laser level up to the wall, nudging it around until it was level and at the right point, then pushed the little button that pushed out a sort of thumbtack that stuck the level into the wall. Then I marked the laser line. I used a combination of stud finder and just looking for popped out nails to locate and mark the wall studs. Then I measured and cut the pieces, often going back to nip off just a hair more because it's always better to start out a little too long than a little too short. Finally, I positioned the pieces, got them all level with a small regular level balancing on top, and nailed them in with a 16 gauge finish nailer. Since our dining room is really made up of several small walls with a lot of doors and windows breaking it up, I did this all in cycles, marking one wall, measuring and cutting, then moving on to the next wall. I laid all the pieces out on the floor, then went back around and nailed them all in. 

For the cutting, I borrowed my friend's miter saw, which I set up on the deck. From putting hardwoods on the stairs (which you can read about here and here), I knew what a pain (both figuratively and literally, in my knees) it was to have the saw in the garage on the ground floor and have to keep going up and down and up and down and up to cut pieces and put them in. Having the saw on the deck on the same level was MUCH better. The cutting wasn't too hard, just had to keep track of which direction the 45 deg cuts had to go for inside and outside corners.

Except for the bay window. It doesn't have 90 deg angles, so I had to do a lot more thinking, plus some math. First, I measured the angles with a protractor. Three of the four measured at 135 deg, while the fourth measured at 130 deg. To figure out the miter saw cut, here is the math I did:
Divide the measured angle by 2. (135 / 2 = 67.5)
Subtract that number from 90. (90 - 67.5 = 22.5)
The result is the miter cut.

I had some scrap wood of similar thickness to the chair rail, so I used that to do test cuts of all the bay window angles to make sure I'd done the math right. I had :-) All the test cuts fit perfectly the first try! I was pretty impressed with myself. I love math.

My air compressor had a slight leak in the connector between the hose and nail gun, so a number of the nails didn't get quite all the way in. My dad had previously introduced me to the nail set (and bought me one, thanks, Dad!). This is a tool for hammering in those not-quite-in finish nails. Zach and our wonderful friend did all of the nail setting for me and then went around and filled all the nail holes with spackle. Here is where my friend and I have a difference of philosophy. He believes in smearing on a bunch of spackle and not worrying about it being neat because it's just going to get sanded off. I believe in being more careful and trying to just fill the hole, so not as much time and effort needs to go into the sanding. Either way works, it just depends where you'd rather spend your time.

So next I had to sand all that excess spackle off. I used fine sand paper, 200 grit. Even so, I still ended up sanding off the primer in a number of spots. Next was caulking. I used DAP Fast Dry Acrylic Latex Plus Silicone caulk in white. Caulk fills in any gapping between the molding and the wall and helps give everything a more finished look. I caulked along the top edge of all the chair rail. I also caulked the edges where the chair rail meets the doorway molding and inside corners. I tried to caulk outside corners, but I couldn't seem to get the caulk to really smush in the gap. I ended up going back to the spackle, which worked a lot better. I chose not to caulk along the bottom of the rail because I figured no one really sees that anyway.

Here are some pictures to show the miracle that is caulk. On the left is the chair rail meeting up with the doorway molding after first being installed. See the little gap between the two moldings? On the right is that same spot after getting a bead of caulk in there. See how much more cohesive and beautiful it looks? 

And here is one of those outside corners before spackle, after spackle, and after sanding and painting. You can barely even tell there used to be a gap in there!

After caulking, it was finally time to paint. I used green Frog Tape along the underside to protect the wall. I didn't bother on the top side because I was planning to touch that up to cover the caulk anyway. The paint I used was the molding touch-up paint left behind by our builders, so I don't know its official name, but it's labeled as a white semi-gloss. I managed to get by with just one coat. I made up for that good fortune on the next step, touching up the red paint.

I put the Frog Tape on the top of the chair rail to protect it's shiny new whiteness. I didn't get a before picture, but some of the pictures above show the line of caulk above the chair rail. It looked kind of messy, and it's paintable, so I wanted to paint it red to clean it up. I still have some leftover paint from the dining room, which is Behr premium plus satin enamel. I don't know the color name. The can has been sitting in our garage for about 4 years, so I stirred it up really well, then it was ready to go. I don't remember how many coats it took for the dining room, other than "a lot", but it took 3 coats to do the touch-up.

Here are the "after" pictures. 

I LOVE how it looks! It does kind of make me think maybe it also needs crown molding now, but I'll let that thought percolate around in my brain for awhile. I'm afraid that if I put crown in one room, I'll need to put in in everywhere, which I don't want to do. So we'll see. For now, I'll just smile at the chair rail every time I go into the dining room :-)